In February, nearly one hundred countries will gather in Pyeongchang for the global equivalent of a competitive play date. Sure, the “kids” (some of whom actually are kids) are highly trained athletes in peak physical condition and the “sandbox” is state-of-the-art sporting and leisure facilities, but the intent is the same: have fun and get along with your friends.
For three weeks, hundreds of athletes across fifteen disciplines will compete for the chance at personal and national glory (and have a really good time meanwhile—though here, perhaps, we drop the metaphor). They will be broadcast live on television, the Internet, mobile apps (but only the approved ones), and radio. Digital and analog press will deliver a constant stream of updates. The total international audience for the events is expected to be nearly three billion people worldwide.
But the games weren’t always such a representative affair. In 1896, the first modern games were decidedly Western and mainly European. It wasn’t until 1968 that the games reached one hundred countries in attendance (for a summer competition; the winter tournaments still draw fewer than that). However, with the recent shift toward globalization in culture and media, a majority of nations around the world now send at least one delegate to the summer games and 92 countries will compete in the 2018 games.
Their countrymen will tune in to watch. Attendance is a point of pride, a point of logic, and, at times, a point of contention. After all, there is no greater stage on which to demonstrate national merit — and policy.
Mirroring the growth of global communications, the increased geographic diversity of participating nations reflects both the benefits anticipated and the pressures felt from membership in the games. In the age of instantaneous contact, we have learned to make use of any stage we are given. Not being connected is a liability.
But what exactly is the value of such global connection? Besides the political benefits of a playing field based on friendship rather than formality, the games provide an open social space for peoples of the world to enjoy competition, communication, and camaraderie.
Excellence Is a Dish Best Served To All
Some people like to run a mile. Some people don’t. And some people like to run a mile very fast. No matter which category you might fall under, accomplishing something feels better when someone is cheering you on. These athletes are the best of the best. They know they can do things we would never dream of, and they know we know it, too. But there is still the drive to prove and to share it with others. Their accomplishments are valuable because they are communal, across international lines. The personal and national triumphs at the games are also human triumphs, feats of strength and will and discipline elsewhere unmatched. Sharing these heights of humanity across distance and language is one of the accomplishments of global connection.
If You Show It, We Will Watch
Not to mix sports references, but one of the biggest takeaways from the games is the sheer magnitude of its audience, at least partially in response to ubiquitous media coverage. People want to see themselves represented in their entertainment, to feel a part of a larger community. There is no community we know larger than the world, and the games are perfect entertainment. Driven by a hunger for connection, global or otherwise, audiences dedicate their attention not only to the people who are like them, but the thousands of foreign competitors as well. With a multitude of interactive screen possibilities, viewers can watch the action anytime, anywhere. By creating meaningful content about global communities, for global communities, the games reach a truly powerful, global audience.
Our Differences Don’t Outweigh Our Humanity
The athletes of the games, like the nations they represent, could not be more varied in size, shape, and skill. They speak different languages and have different strengths. However, in joining the ranks of athletes before them, each competitor commits to respect for one another and their shared professions and goals. This respect fosters an increasingly global attitude among not only the athletes but their nations as well, in turn encouraging further participation and respect. The differences between us are not insurmountable, as illustrated by the grace, courage, and perseverance demonstrated at countless games. We can coexist without relinquishing a spirit of friendship and honor in competition. By allowing ourselves genuine connection with even the most different of strangers, we create a space of improvement, of striving for better, for more.
Already, the world rallies together in anticipation for the ceremonies to begin. Despite challenges, Rio offers an opportunity for us to come together in an ever more connected, ever more conflicted world, to see the humanity between us, to witness the heights to which we can aspire. It has never been easier to share information or a moment, and these games will see the world move as one, breathe as one, once again.